As anyone who has had a severe foot injury can attest, shoes just don’t fit the same after you get permanent hardware drilled into your bones. Even prior to my Lisfranc fracture, which resulted in three long pins in my left foot, I fetishized footwear–an obsession that peaked in my fashion days and likely began when I was a ballet dancer. People close to me would say that I am still crippled by this footwear fixation, aka “neurotic tootsie syndrome.” I am also a smaller size, and in the mountain boot category, my options are most often limited to the “women’s versions,” which has given me and other women a slight chip on our shoulders. When us smaller-footed climbers got the consolation prize of the Scarpa Ribelle HD, I had to try it.
In order to fully appreciate the Ribelle HD, it helps to have an understanding of Scarpa Ribelle OD, which is the HD’s older sibling. The great alpinist Ueli Steck helped design the Ribelle OD and it was a revolutionary mountain boot. With a nimble, upturned sole that is akin to the rocker of a running shoe, it is also stiff, crampon compatible and comfortable. The Ribelle OD is also equipped with a gaiter that keeps out snow while allowing for more natural ankle movement. It is as if an approach shoe, a trail running shoe and a mountain boot had a child. The Ribelle HD is a more traditional mountain boot–with the Ribelle OD’s exact same smear-happy, upturned sole, only coupled with a leather upper instead of the OD’s low-cut synthetic upper and built-in gaiter.
A pair of women’s size 38 Ribelle HD boots weighs less than 3 pounds. Scarpa describes it as a boot that can be “light and fast in the alpine, and also cross over to function as a heavy-duty backpacking boot,” which is funny because the Ribelle HD is a tad bit lighter than most basic “backpacking boots.” Although the HD has a rather unique sole, I get why they would compare the HDs to more classic leather backpacking or hiking boots, because the rest of the boot does give off a “basic boot” vibe–at least that was my first impression.
After picking up the boot and trying them on, however, they definitely are not a basic boot. They felt great, especially for me as someone who fits Scarpa well; I found instant comfort. When I went to lace them, I noticed that closed grommets stopped at the ankle, changing to open hooks. This is a super big pet peeve of mine, yet the hooks seem to be angled down enough to keep the laces in and not get caught on the other boots’ laces.
I am typically a 37 or 37.5 in Scarpa footwear, but in their leather Crux, I size down to a 36.5 and I recently gave away a pair of Charmoz in a size 37, that just were a bit too small. I knew that likely the Ribelle HDs would give a little over time as the leather broke in and stretched, so I was hesitant to get the 37.5. I also couldn’t try on the 37 because there didn’t seem to be any pairs in Canada. But after wearing the 37.5 size I think they are the right size for me after all.
The boot has a bit of volume, but it can easily be managed with the lacing, thanks to the malleable tongue area–Scarpa describes this as “Sockfit.” I found the heel cup to be a bit big prior to lacing, and it gave me a feeling I often get with Scrapas: tighter around the ankle, but with a little space behind the heel. Like the volume, however, this doesn’t seem to be an issue after lacing. The heel cup actually proved to be nice when walking down ice and snow (more on that later).
On my first outing in the Ribelle HDs, a hike, I found they walked really well. I still wasn’t completely used to the balance points and the sole seemed to have a lightweight bulk to it, which was really just an optical illusion. If you haven’t ever tried a crossover style boot, it can be hard to explain, but I found that the Ribelle HDs seem to have more rubber around the foot, and I felt like I lost some sensitivity that I’m used to in a mountain boot with a sleeker sole, like a Trango or Charmoz. Once I trusted the HDs more, I actually found them to give me better footing on scree slopes.
That first outing wasn’t a spectacular hike, but it was longer than anything I had done all season and I was fully expecting to feel an achy soreness from my left foot (the one with the metal pins inside it.) Surprisingly, my foot did not feel sore.
My second trip with the Ribelle HDs involved a much longer slog up to Mt. Hector, a glaciated snow and ice peak in the Canadian Rockies. Once again, I felt pretty balanced in third-class sub-alpine trails through the talus. In fourth-class terrain, I was still a bit hesitant to completely trust the rockered sole. Once on ice, the HDs felt stiff and coupled well with the Petzl Irvis crampons. The snow was pretty bad, so I hit a few holes. I didn’t wear gaiters, so eventually my feet were wet. The Ribelle HDs are super warm, but not as waterproof as I would like. We got hit with rain on the way down and when I reached my cache of dry approach shoes, I promptly swapped. Again, my feet didn’t feel tired. Other parts of my body did, but that problem foot felt OK.
My next journey with the Ribelle HDs was up to the Bugaboos. This is where the Ribelle HDs shined for me. They were faithful on the approach with my big pack; for sure they are a good “backpacking boot,” whatever that is. I like the leather on the HDs for it’s pliability–I felt like the boot and my feet were bonding.
You see so many variations of footwear and an array of applications at the Bugs. For example, there are the young, strong kids who love to hike in sandals while some folks wear approach shoes with gaiters and crampons–a funny juxtaposition to Conrad Kain who tromped around there in hobnails. Everyone finds their own comfort levels. I would say for certain objectives in the Bugs, the Ribelle HD is a perfect boot.
It was on the keystoned talus fields that I really started to love the Ribelle HDs and by the time we headed up the South Spur (AD 5.6) of Brenta Spire, I really started to have fun. Fourth- and low-fifth-class moves became a game of, how long I can keep the Ribelle HDs on? I only switched to rock climbing shoes for the last two sections, and in hindsight, I probably didn’t need to.
We had to traverse some snow on the way back to camp. We opted not to put on crampons, which made our travel time shorter but my boots wetter. They managed fairly well, I am not that fast on snow, and I am also dealing with a snapping hip issue, so I eventually down climbed the slope rather than heel punching.
The boots were wet the next day, partly because I didn’t set them out to dry and partly because they aren’t the most waterproof boots. I did find them to dry fairly quickly with my body heat after wearing them for a short time. Again, they molded even more around my foot. That is the beauty of a leather boot.
The paradox of the Ribelle HD is that in some ways it is this super modern spaceship-looking boot, and in other ways it is just a classic leather boot. I really like it. Do I wish Scarpa would make smaller sizes in their premier boots, such as the Phantom Tech or Ribelle HD? Yes, yes I do (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). But for now, those with smaller feet can keep up with boots like the HD.
Kate Erwin has been very picky about footwear since before she started climbing in high school. She took a bit of a hiatus to work in the fashion world, then motorsports, but decided that being cold and swinging axes in the Canadian Rockies is more fun than fast cars, and that technical gear is much more useful than stylish duds. You can see more of her work at katharineerwin.com.
Lightweight but still heavy-duty
Perform well on friction climbing (aka smearing)
Snug lacing system that stays tied
Not as waterproof as I would like